Let’s study the lawfulness of drones in France. The use of civilian drones in France is governed by two recent regulations that came into force on January 1, 2016. These regulations separate civilian drone use into three categories: hobby and competition flying, flying for experimental and testing purposes, and “particular activities”, which essentially means everything else, including commercial use of drones.
Drones of all categories are subject to strict geographic restrictions, the main purpose of which is to protect people, property, and other aircraft. Concerning the lawfulness of drones in France, drones may not be flown over public areas of urban zones without governmental approval, and may be flown over private property only with the owner’s authorisation. Drones are required to fly under certain altitudes, and these altitude limits are substantially lower in the vicinity of airfields. Absent special authorisation, drones are entirely forbidden in certain zones, such as military installations and other sensitive sites, but also historical monuments and certain national parks and natural reserves. Violation of prohibited airspace is punishable by jail time and heavy fines.
Drones flown for hobby and competition purposes are subject to certain weight and performance limits. Lighter and less powerful hobby drones may be flown by anyone, but heavier and/or more powerful ones may be flown only under authorisation of the ministry in charge of civil aviation. Drones flown for experimental or testing purposes also require government authorisation if they weigh more than twenty-five kilograms.
Drones flown for “particular activities” which include commercial purposes, are regulated on the basis of four different types of scenarios. Different rules apply depending on which type of scenario the drone is to be used for, though many rules apply to all four scenarios. Many drones used for “particular activities” require a certification of design in order to receive authorisation to fly, and all must comply with defined safety requirements. Furthermore, the operation of a drone for “particular activities” requires that the operator declare these activities to the government authorities, and certain activities require express approval. Pilots of drones for “particular activities” must have a level of knowledge and training that depends on the type of scenario for which the drone is to be used, with some situations requiring a full pilot’s license.
The definition of a drone
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (or uncrewed aerial vehicle), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard computers.
A UAV is defined as a “powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload”. Therefore, missiles are not considered UAVs because the vehicle itself is a weapon that is not reused, though it is also uncrewed and in some cases remotely guided.
The term “drone”, more widely used by the public, was coined in reference to the early remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship’s guns, and the term was first used with the 1920s Fairey Queen and 1930’s de Havilland Queen Bee target aircraft. These two were followed in service by the similarly-named Airspeed Queen Wasp and Miles Queen Martinet, before ultimate replacement by the GAF Jindivik. The term unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was adopted by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the United States Federal Aviation Administration in 2005. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the British Civil Aviation Authority adopted this term, also used in the European Union’s Single-European-Sky (SES) Air-Traffic-Management (ATM) Research (SESAR Joint Undertaking) roadmap for 2020.
Compared to crewed aircraft, UAVs were originally used for missions too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for humans. While they originated mostly in military applications, their use is rapidly expanding to commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, and other applications, such as policing, peacekeeping, and surveillance, product deliveries, aerial photography, smuggling, and drone racing. Civilian UAVs now vastly outnumber military UAVs.
The French Civil Aviation Authority
The DGAC, the French Civil Aviation Authority, is responsible for ensuring the safety and the security of French air transport, as well as maintaining a balance between the development of the air transport sector and environmental protection. It is the national regulatory authority, but it also provides safety oversight, air navigation services and training. It is a partner of key players in the aeronautical industry and it is also in charge of financial aid for research in aircraft construction and state industrial policy in this sector. The DGAC is responsible for the lawfulness of drones in France.
The missions of the DGAC are the following: 1. Maintaining high safety and security standards in the air transport sector is one of the DGAC’s constant concerns. It is responsible for the oversight of industrial stakeholders, operators and flight crew. 2. DGAC takes action to reduce the pollution generated by air transport, especially noise and air pollution. It maintains dialogue with local elected officials and the representatives of residents who live close to airports. 3. DGAC provides services for airlines and general aviation. It provides air traffic services, through its control centres and air traffic control towers. 4. DGAC plays an active role in economic and social affairs. It acts as France’s air transport regulator. It is the key representative of airlines, airports and their customers. As a partner of industrial manufacturers and operators, DGAC contributes to activity in the aeronautical industry. It implements a policy designed to support this key sector of the French economy thanks to research subsidies and refundable advance payments. 5. The civil aviation environment is highly international and European. The DGAC is involved in defining and defending France’s position before the relevant international bodies. It promotes French companies savoir-faire abroad. It also leads actions of cooperation on demand of foreign countries willing to benefit from French experience.
The lawfulness of drones in France
The use of civilian drones in France is principally governed by two recent regulations: the Arrêté du 17 décembre 2015 relatif à l’utilisation de l’espace aérien par les aéronefs qui circulent sans personne à bord (Order of December 17, 2015, Regarding the Use of Airspace by Unmanned Aircraft) (Airspace Order), and the Arrêté du 17 décembre 2015 relatif à la conception des aéronefs civils qui circulent sans personne à bord, aux conditions de leur emploi et aux capacités requises des personnes qui les utilisent (Order of December 17, 2015, Regarding the Creation of Unmanned Civil Aircraft, the Conditions of Their Use, and the Required Aptitudes of the Persons That Use Them) (Creation and Use Order). These two orders replace regulations from 2012 that were considered obsolete and inadequate. Both of these orders came into force on January 1, 2016.
The current regulations apply to “aircraft that move without any person on board”. The order regarding the use of airspace does not apply to tethered balloons, kites, or military drones. The other order, which aims to regulate the creation of drones, their conditions of use, and the requirements for operators to receive authorisation to fly them, does not apply to free-flying balloons, tethered balloons that stay below an altitude of fifty meters and have a payload of no more than one kilogram, rockets, kites, and aircraft used in enclosed and covered spaces.
The use of civilian drones in France is governed by two recent regulations that came into force on January 1, 2016. These regulations separate civilian drone use into three categories: hobby and competition flying, flying for experimental and testing purposes, and “particular activities”, which essentially means everything else, including commercial use of drones. According to France’s national aviation authority, the French Civil Aviation Authority, flying a drone is legal in France, but it is recommended to be aware of and compliant with the drone regulations.
Based on our research and interpretation of the laws, here are the most important rules to know for flying a drone in France. All drones of eight hundred grams or more must be registered by their owner on AlphaTango, the public portal for users of remotely piloted aircraft. The drone then receives a registration number that must be affixed permanently, visibly, on the drone and must allow reading at a distance of thirty centimetres, with the naked eye. The drone pilot must be able to provide proof of registration in the event of a check.
Drone pilots must maintain a line of sight with their drones at all times. If a visual observer is tracking the drone, the pilot may fly out of his or her own range of sight. Drones may not be flown at night (unless with special authorisation from the local prefect). Drones may not be flown over people; over airports or airfields; over private property (unless with owner’s authorisation); over military installations, prisons, nuclear power plants, historical monuments, or national parks. Use this map to locate flight restrictions by geolocation. Drones may also not be flown over ongoing fires, accident zones, or around emergency services. Drones may not be flown above one hundred and fifty meter, or higher than fifty meters above any object or building that is one hundred meters or more in height.
Here are the additional requirements, concerning the lawfulness of drones in France, to fly a drone commercially in France: drone pilots who fly for purposes other than leisure (commercial drone pilots) must pass a theoretical exam. The exam can be taken online or at specified DSAC facilities. Procedures for taking this exam are described on this page. Upon passing the exam, the pilot will receive a theoretical “télépilote” certificate. The pilot must have this printed and with them during all flights.
Commercial drone pilots must also undergo basic practical training. The operator must define and provide the necessary additional training, taking into account the types of aircraft they use and the specific activities they perform. At the end of the training, the training organisations will provide the télépilots with a training follow-up certificate for the corresponding scenarios. A drone pilot cannot provide his own practical training.
Here are the additional requirements to fly a drone for recreation in France: drone pilots who fly for leisure or recreation only do not need a training certificate when their drone’s mass is less than eight hundred grams. Drone pilots operating a remotely piloted aircraft of eight hundred grams or more for recreational purposes must undergo training. This training can be: (1) the Fox AlphaTango training offered by the DGAC or (2) training provided by the FFAM or UFOLEP recognised as equivalent by the DGAC. That is what we can say about the lawfulness of drones in France.